Listening is one of the most important skills you can have, and one of the greatest gifts you can give to others. How well you listen has a major impact on the quality of your relationships:

  • We listen to obtain information.
  • We listen to understand.
  • We listen for enjoyment.
  • We listen to learn.

Given all the listening that we do, you would think we’d be good at it! In fact, most of us are not, and research suggests that we only remember between 25% and 50% of what we hear. That means that when we talk to others for ten minutes, they pay attention to less than half of the conversation.

Turn it around and it reveals that when we are receiving directions or being presented with information, we’re not hearing the whole message either. We hope the important parts are captured in our 25-50%, but what if they’re not?

Clearly, listening is a skill that we can all benefit from improving. By becoming a better listener, we can improve our ability to influence, persuade and negotiate. What’s more, we’ll hopefully avoid conflict and misunderstandings… and what better time to practice than before the Christmas get-together!

The way to improve listening skills is to practice “active listening.” This is where we make a conscious effort to hear not only the words that another person is saying but, more importantly, the complete message being communicated. In order to do this we must pay attention to the other person and this means not allowing ourselves to become distracted by whatever else may be going on around us, or by forming counter arguments while the other person is still speaking. 

To enhance our listening skills, we also need to let the other person know that we are listening to what they are saying. Acknowledgement can be something as simple as a nod of the head or a simple “uh huh.” This doesn’t mean that we are necessarily agreeing with the person, but indicating that we are listening. Using body language and other signs to acknowledge we are listening can also help us to pay attention.

The five key active listening techniques are:

1. Pay Attention

  • Look at the speaker directly.
  • Put aside distracting thoughts.
  • Don’t mentally prepare a rebuttal!
  • Avoid being distracted by environmental factors e.g. side conversations.

2. Show That You’re Listening

  • Nod occasionally.
  • Smile and use other facial expressions.
  • Make sure that your posture is open and interested.
  • Encourage the speaker to continue with small verbal comments.

3. Provide Feedback

  • Reflect on what has been said by paraphrasing. “What I’m hearing is… ,”
  • Ask questions to clarify certain points. “What do you mean when you say… .”

4. Defer Judgment

Interruptions frustrate the speaker and limits our understanding of the message.

  • Allow the speaker to finish each point before asking questions.
  • Don’t interrupt with counter arguments.

5. Respond Appropriately

Active listening encourages respect and understanding. 

  • Be candid, open and honest in your response.
  • Assert your opinions respectfully.

It takes a lot of concentration and determination to be an active listener but with practice comes mastery…